If Senator John McCain is searching for a poster child for his boxing reform bill, he need look no further than Meldrick Taylor. The former welterweight and junior welterweight champ will enter a Birmingham ring on May 31 despite suffering what many in the fight game believe are neurological problems stemming from boxing injuries. Taylor, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, once famed for his blinding hand speed, has never fully recovered from his brutal '90 bout against Julio C�sar Ch�vez. After Ch�vez knocked Taylor out in the 12th round, Taylor was hospitalized for four days with dehydration and broken bones around his left eye. Afterward, Taylor was seldom able to slip punches as he slogged through a 13-6 record in nine years, and his speech became noticeably slurred.
Concerned about the possible onset of what doctors call dementia pugilistica—brain damage caused by repetitive head trauma—New Jersey's boxing commission has refused to license Taylor. He has also avoided fighting in other states, such as Nevada, that require neurological tests before licensing. Most recently Taylor backed out of a January card in Atlanta. "I explained the neurological exams that needed to be taken, and that was the last I ever heard from him," says Georgia Boxing Commission head Tom Mishou. ( Taylor was unreachable for comment.)
Friday's fight will take place in Alabama, which not coincidentally is one of the few states without a boxing commission. Taylor, 35, had been scheduled to fight Willie McDonald (13-27-1), but when matchmaker Harry Barnett was told by SI that McDonald has been suspended by the nationwide Association of Boxing Commissions for neurological reasons, Barnett said he'd line up a new opponent for Taylor by fight time. Regarding Taylor's health, Barnett dismissed concerns, saying the boxer's speech seems perfectly normal. "I understand him completely," says Barnett. "I have a harder time understanding Mike Tyson." As for the main event, Barnett says, "it should really tell us where Taylor is at."